The Craft Beer Blow-up

By
The beer aisle at DeCicco's in Brewster.
2 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 Google+ 2 Reddit 0 Pin It Share 0 Email -- Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 2 Flares ×

 

This past December, The Brewer’s Association issued a statement defining what it means to be an American craft brewery along with a call for transparency in beer brand ownership.  The statement has set off significant backlash in the beer world as traditional and multinational breweries sound off on the Association’s purported elitist views on the world of craft beer.

 

The statement, entitled “Craft vs. Crafty”, reads:

 

“The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.

 

“And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?”

 

The statement goes on to define craft breweries as “small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.”

 

Tom Long, CEO of MillerCoors, responded a week later in a special op-ed on CNN, urging consumers to judge their product rather than their brand and the size of their business.

 

“While we may be big,” he wrote, “we are still a company of beer people who take great pride in our beer culture and heritage, tracing our roots to two visionary immigrant entrepreneurs who opened breweries in the mid-19th century, Frederick Miller and Adolph Coors.

 

“We’re also proud of our craft heritage. Nearly a quarter century ago, we acquired the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., which was making great beers, but struggling financially like many smaller brewers of that era. Leinie’s, as it’s affectionately known, was founded in 1867, and we promised we weren’t presumptuous enough to tell it how to brew its beers.”

 

“The question we have for the Brewers Association is why are we being punished for brewing with a locally grown ingredient, which started out of necessity, and has continued out of tradition? And why is it only bad to use adjuncts if you are brewing an American Lager, yet perfectly acceptable to use them in basically any Belgian style of beer, IPA’s or double IPA’s?”

 

– Jace Marti, sixth generation brewmaster at Schell

 

Similarly, Minnesota’s August Schell Brewing issued a statement, decrying the Brewer’s Association for excluding their 152-year-old brewery from the craft beer list for being “not traditional”.

 

“We whole-heartedly believe in breweries being transparent, and the consumers right to know who is producing their beer, and where it is being made. Where we take issue, is their definition of what constitutes a craft brewer, and the fact that we have been in a sense, ‘black listed.’ In 2005, the Association of Brewers, and the Brewers’ Association of America merged to form the Brewers Association to ‘promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.’ With the merger, they decided to create a set of guidelines of who is and isn’t a craft brewer in an attempt to essentially kick out the big guys. Their definition stated that a craft brewer is ‘small, independent, and traditional.’ Three things that the big guys supposedly weren’t. The problem with those guidelines is that it ended up excluding some of their largest members, so they changed their definition and made exceptions repeatedly to make sure they were included in their group. We apparently were not important enough, and were thus no longer considered a ‘craft brewery,’ because according to their definition, we’re not ‘traditional.’ As a 152-year-old brewery, and the second oldest family-owned brewery in America, stating that we are not ‘traditional’ is insulting.”

 

Jace Marti, the sixth generation brewmaster at Schell, went on to explain that their brewery was excluded because it shares an ingredient commonly used by macro brewers: corn.

 

“Big brewers often use adjuncts in excess amounts to cut down on brewing costs, and to lighten their beers- the opposite of what the craft beer movement is all about. While this is true for them, it is also a very shortsighted view of brewing in America, and most definitely not the case for in our brewery. When August Schell emigrated from Germany and founded this brewery in 1860, his only option to brew was to use was available to him, as it was impossible to ship large quantities of raw ingredients from Europe at that time. The high quality, two-row malting barley he could use back home, wasn’t native to North America. Instead, he had to use the locally grown, but much higher protein, 6-row barley to brew his beer. When he decided that he wanted to produce a high quality, clear and stable, golden lager, he had to cut down that protein content somehow. In order to accomplish this, he used a small portion of another locally grown ingredient he called “mais” as is hand written in our old brewing logs, better known as corn. He didn’t use corn to cheapen or lighten his beer. He did it because it was the only way to brew a high quality lager beer in America at that point. By the time high quality two-row malting barley was finally cultivated and available to use, our consumers had already been drinking our high quality beers for many years. We continued to brew our beer using this small portion of corn because that was the way we traditionally brewed it.

 

“The question we have for the Brewers Association is why are we being punished for brewing with a locally grown ingredient, which started out of necessity, and has continued out of tradition? And why is it only bad to use adjuncts if you are brewing an American Lager, yet perfectly acceptable to use them in basically any Belgian style of beer, IPA’s or double IPA’s?”

 

It’s possible that the Brewer’s Association is set to clarify their definitions and include breweries such as Schell; the last paragraph of their statement indicates that an additional statement on craft brewing standards will be released early this year along with a list of 2012 craft breweries that meet their criteria.  However, it’s safe to say that the Association’s statement has done much to shake up the beer world, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.  As craft beer gives big beer a run for its money, an industry and consumer-wide conversation about beer standards and practices can only serve to benefit brewers and beer drinkers alike.

by & filed under Brews, Food, Top Stories.